quarta-feira, 30 de outubro de 2013

Twenty reasons to think twice about aborting a baby with anencephaly - by Peter Saunders

In MercatorNet
A woman who is carrying twin girls with a fatal foetal abnormality has appealed to the Northern Ireland Minister for Health Edwin Poots to allow her have an abortion in Northern Ireland.
The woman, known as Laura, who is almost 22 weeks pregnant, said she was very recently informed that her babies have anencephaly and had no chance of survival. She is now arranging to travel to England for an abortion.
The case of another Northern Ireland woman, Sarah Ewart, who had an abortion last week in London for a baby with the same condition at 20 weeks has recently been highlighted by the BBC’s Stephen Nolan.
The 1967 British Abortion Act does not apply in Northern Ireland, where termination is permitted only where it is ‘necessary to preserve the life of the woman or there is a risk of real and serious adverse effect on her physical or mental health, which is either long-term or permanent’.
Currently only about 40 abortions are performed in Northern Ireland each year although 905 women from the province had abortions in England Wales in 2012.
A consultation is currently taking place about changing the guidelines on abortion and Minister of Justice David Ford has said that there is a need to widen it ‘to look at difficult issues like foetal abnormality to see if where the law is currently drawn is in the right place’ (see also here).
Anencephaly is a severe form of spina bifida where a failure of fusion of the neural rube in early pregnancy results in the baby developing without cerebral hemispheres, including the neocortex, which is responsible for cognition. The remaining brain tissue is often exposed, ie, not covered by bone or skin (see diagram above).
Those babies who survive to birth almost all die in the first hours or days after birth. There is no curative treatment available, only symptom relief.
Anencephaly is not uncommon, occurring in 1 out of 1,000 pregnancies, but only 3 out of 10,000 live births. Over 95 percent of parents opt for abortion in countries where this is legal and 208 babies with the condition were aborted in England and Wales in 2012. 
One cannot hear these tragic testimonies without being deeply moved by the emotions expressed. There are few things worse than losing a child and it is a huge thing for a mother to carry a baby to term, knowing that it will be born with a terrible deformity and die shortly afterwards.
It is perhaps not surprising therefore that the media coverage of these recent cases, along with the public reaction, has been overwhelmingly supportive of the decision to abort and that there is now growing pressure for a change in the law.
Very few people, even doctors or disabled people’s advocates, are willing to express a contrary opinion, and I do so only because I believe that the issue is so important that the arguments for the contrary position need to be heard.
Before I qualified as a doctor I probably would have taken the generally expressed view, but an experience I had as a junior doctor dramatically changed my attitudes both to disability and abortion.
More on that later, but first, at the risk of being accused of trying to defend the ‘indefensible’, let me give twenty reasons why I believe parents (and doctors) should think twice about aborting a baby with anencephaly, and why I believe we as a society should be advocating an alternative approach. I would stress that this is my sincerely held personal view.
1. A baby with anencephaly is a human being. Our humanity is not diminished or degraded by sickness, disability, fragility, intellectual impairment or by what people think of us or how they value us. Babies with severe conditions like anencephaly are human beings worthy, like all human beings, of profound wonder, empathy, respect and protection.
2. A baby with anencephaly is not brain dead. Babies with anencephaly, although not conscious, are not brain dead. Their brainstems are functioning at least in part which is why they can breathe without ventilators, often survive for several days and are  not permitted to be used as organ donors.
3. A baby with anencephaly is a dependent relative. Babies with anencephaly are profoundly dependent but are also biologically related to their parents and carry their genes. They are therefore dependent relatives and so should I believe be treated with the same love and respect as any other dependent and dying close relative.
4. A baby with anencephaly is a disabled person. Babies with anencephaly are profoundly disabled and have special needs. They are also people because personhood is not contingent upon intellectual capacity or function but conferred on every member of the human race. They are therefore just profoundly disabled people who should be treated the same as disabled people at any other age. There are other causes of similar brain dysfunction including birth asphyxia, trauma, stroke and brain tumour. 
5. Palliative care is the best response to terminal illness. Babies with anencephaly are human beings with a terminal condition. They are dying babies for whom no curative treatment is possible. The appropriate management in treating patients in this condition is palliative care – food, water, warmth, human company and symptom relief. Perinatal hospice is a wonderful concept that should be promoted much more widely. 
6. We should not be making judgements about the worth of other people. None of us has right to make value judgements about the worth of another human being; especially when that person is unable to express an opinion about the matter. Equally we do not have the right to end their lives regardless of what burden we perceive they impose on us. 
7. Abortion for anencephaly is discriminatory. Anencephaly is usually diagnosed at the time of the 18 week anomaly scan so abortion is inevitably later than this. Most people however strongly oppose abortion beyond 20 weeks. The recent parliamentary inquiry into abortion for fetal disability (Bruce Inquiry) concluded that the current law on abortion for severe disability was discriminatory in two ways. First it allowed abortion up until 24 weeks for able-bodied babies but until birth (40 weeks) for disabled babies. Second it allowed abortion for babies with significant risk of a serious abnormality, but not for those with lesser degrees of special need. 
8. Abortion for anencephaly is often a coercive offer. The Bruce Inquiry revealed that there was a strong presumption from doctors that parents with disabled babies would choose to have them aborted. This led to a huge amount of subtle or direct pressure being placed on parents who decided not to abort. They were repeatedly asked to reconsider their decisions and treated like pariahs – in short they were discriminated against. It is just this sort of pressure that has led some commentators like Melinda Tankard Reist to talk about abortion for disability as a ‘coercive offer’. Reist’s book ‘Defiant Birth’ tells the personal stories of women who have resisted ‘medical eugenics’ and dared to challenge the utilitarian medical model and mindset.  
9. Abortion for anencephaly is contrary to every historic ethical code. Historic codes of medical ethics such as the Hippocratic Oath and the Declaration of Geneva prohibit abortion. The latter states as one of its central tenets, ‘I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception; even against threat I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity’.
10. Abortion for anencephaly exchanges one problem for a whole set of different problems. Abortion may appear to offer a solution but the mother is still left to deal with the guilt, emotional trauma and unresolved grief of loss of what is almost always a wanted baby. These inward scars may take a lifetime to heal.
11. Saying goodbye properly is important for resolving grief and achieving closure. Achieving effective closure after the loss of a baby is best achieved if parents are able to spend time with their dying, or dead, baby, saying what they would have wanted to say and treasuring the precious moments. Covering the baby’s head with a woollen cap may enable them to focus on the eyes and face which are usually normal to look at (see the story of Rachel). ‘Saying Goodbye’ is a charity which is running very welcome thanksgiving services for couples who have lost babies before or after birth. 
12. Abortion for anencephaly can be profoundly damaging to a mother’s mental health. Mothers who abort babies for fetal abnormality are highly susceptible to mental health problems afterwards. This is because the abortions are late, the babies were generally ‘wanted’, an emotional bond with the baby has usually been established and there has been no opportunity properly to say goodbye. There is a better way than abortion.
13. Pregnancy is the most intimate form of hospitality. A mother’s womb offers protection, warmth, shelter, food and water within the body of one’s closest relative. There is no form of hospitality that is more intimate or more suited to one whose life is going to be very short.
14. There are real dangers of incremental extension once we embark down this route. The British Abortion Act 1967 was driven through on the back of the thalidomide disaster and was meant to authorise abortion only in severe circumstances. Now there are 200,000 abortions a year with one in five pregnancies ending in this way. Babies have been aborted for cleft palate and club feet. Recent statistics showed that between 2002 and 2010 there were 17,983 abortions of disabled babies in Britain. The overwhelming majority of these were for conditions compatible with life outside the womb and 1,189 babies were aborted after 24 weeks, the accepted age of viability. 
15. Deformity does not define us. Our worth as human beings is independent of any disabilities we might have.
16. Easing our own pain is not sufficient reason for ending another person’s life. Given that babies with anencephaly do not feel pain, the question has to be asked whose pain their deaths are actually relieving. Any interventions should primarily be aimed at benefiting the babies themselves.
17. Anencephaly forces us to acknowledge and face our deepest prejudices. In a society that values physical beauty, athletic prowess and intellectual capacity highly it is easy to see why babies with anencephaly are low down the pecking order. They fall foul of our deep societal prejudice toward people who are ‘ugly to look at’, ‘unintelligent’ and ‘physically inept’. The only effective way of overcoming such prejudices is to cultivate attitudes of compassion and care for people with severe disabilities. Caring collectively for those who are suffering, disabled and dying makes our society less selfish.  
18. Major life decisions should not be made at a time of crisis. Major life decisions, like choosing to abort one’s disabled baby, should not be made at a time of great emotional trauma. Parents need to be given the time, space and support necessary to make an unpressured and unhurried decision and need to be told that keeping the baby is an alternative option for which full support will be given.
19. We should not allow ourselves to be manipulated by the media or those with an agenda. I was deeply shocked that the BBC would interview a deeply traumatised grieving woman who had just heard the most devastating news of her life in front of a national audience just days before one of the most horrendous experiences a woman can go through – aborting her own baby. More than this, such hard cases should not be used by media presenters with a wider political agenda of liberalising abortion laws (see Melanie McDonough in the Spectator). This was I believe both exploitative and abusive. Huge sensitivity is also needed with the language we use. These are babies living with anencephaly. They are not ‘anencephalics’, ‘dead babies’ or ‘non-persons’. These are dehumanising terms. Just as we would not accept the terms ‘spastic’, ‘moron’, ‘imbecile’ or ‘vegetable’ to describe human beings, neither should we accept these.
20. Death is not the end. I have attempted to address the points above to a general audience but allow me one explicitly Christian argument. As a Christian I believe that human beings are made for eternity. This earthly existence is just the ‘Shadowlands’. So when we think of loved ones, who have died with dementia, we do not think of them as they were but as they will be. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection we look forward to the resurrection of the body into a world where there is no dying, mourning, death or pain. In this new world there will be no anencephaly. The Christian ethic is to treat all people as we would treat Christ and to treat others as Christ would have done. The bottom line is that we should treat babies with anencephaly as if they were Jesus himself, and treat them in the way he would have done.
I mentioned above an experience I had as a junior doctor which changed my attitudes to abortion and disability.
The administrative clerk on the medical ward where I was working was heavily pregnant and I asked her when she was due. She gave me the date and before I could say anything else said, ‘my baby has anencephaly’. While I was inwardly asking why she had not had an abortion, she added, ‘I could not bring myself to end the life of my own baby’.
The baby was born a few weeks later and survived about a week. She held it, nursed and cared for it and said her goodbyes before its inevitable death.
Up until that point I had not contemplated that such an approach was even possible. She not only demonstrated that it was but taught me a huge lesson about courage, compassion and how to face and handle tragedy, grief and bereavement. I have never forgotten it and resolved then, that if I was ever in the same situation I would want to do the same.
I have heard many similar testimonies since from women in similar situations who have made similar decisions and have become even more convinced that this is best way to handle it (See testimonies herehereherehere and here and resources for parents here).
Having a baby with a severe disability changes one’s life forever whatever choice one makes. But choosing to offer the hospitality of pregnancy and a mother’s care and compassion to a dependent and severely disabled relative, and to be willing to shoulder the inevitable pain of separation and bereavement, is I believe the best way through this tragic situation.

An interview with Clarke D. Forsythe, author of Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade

Forty years after Roe v. Wade, we are just now learning the back history to the Supreme Court decision that allowed abortion on demand to become a national policy. In his insightful and well-researched new book, Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade (Encounter Books, 2013), Clarke D. Forsythe chronicles the complicated history and political details that led to the most sweeping Supreme Court decision in our history. Recently, Catholic World Report caught up with Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, to discuss the twenty years of research that went into this important book. 

CWR: The "right to privacy" established in Griswold v. Connecticut served as a precursor for Roe v. Wade. Was Griswold the decision that ultimately paved the way for the justices’ endorsement of legal and unlimited abortion in the United States? 

Forsythe: Not entirely by itself. The Justices pointed to a number of decisions that they said created a right to privacy, including the 1972 decision in Eisenstadt v. Baird—also heard during the fifteen-week twin vacancies after the retirements of Justices Black and Harlan in the fall of 1972—which significantly extended Griswold to strike down regulations on the sale of contraceptives to single people. The justices largely abandoned the right to privacy in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and justified Roe on the basis of the “reliance interests” of women in abortion as a back-up to failed contraception—the new glue that holds together the right to abortion. 

CWR: Most non-legal scholars overlook the significance of Roe v. Wade's companion case, Doe v. Bolton. Why do you insist that Doe is so important? 

Forsythe: Two main reasons: First, it is Roe and Doe together which gave us the national policy of abortion for any reason, at any time of pregnancy. Roe declared a right to abortion up to fetal viability; Doe gave us the “health” exception (defined as “emotional well-being”) after fetal viability, which is left to the discretion of the provider.

Secondly, Doe struck down the 1968 Georgia law as too strict, which allowed abortion in certain circumstances, including the health and safety regulations in the Georgia laws. 

CWR: Given the cultural currents of the sixties and seventies—more women in the workforce, increased sexual license, concerns of overpopulation, and so forth—weren't the justices that decided Roe and Doe just confirming public opinion on the matter of abortion? 

Forsythe: No. In Roe and Doe, the Justices imposed a national policy that, when released, went way beyond public support. And that has continued for forty years. Today, only 7% to 9% of Americans support abortion for any reason, at any time of pregnancy. 

CWR: Your book posits that the justices originally agreed to hear Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton because they believed they were only to be ruling on matters of jurisdiction and whether the plaintiffs in these cases could even bring their case to the federal level. Yet upon hearing the cases they soon realized they had taken on a much bigger issue than originally anticipated. In both hearing and deciding the cases, what factual evidence was considered on record?  

Forsythe: More specifically, the Justices took the cases to decide the jurisdictional issue, and then, after the abrupt retirements of Justices Black and Harlan in September 1971, four justices—Douglas, Brennan, Stewart and Marshall—decided to use the cases to eliminate the abortion laws. There was no trial or evidentiary record in either Roe or Doe, but the flour pushed ahead nevertheless, violating a long-standing rule that the Court will not decide constitutional issues without an adequate factual record. The only “facts” that the justices had were presented to them by interest groups, like Planned Parenthood, in the Supreme Court. 

CWR: You note that the United States is an outlier when it comes to abortion rights. How extreme is the United States juridical position compared to the rest of the world? 

Forsythe: The U.S. is only of only four nations across the globe that allows abortion for any reason after fetal viability: China, North Korea, Canada, and the U.S. 

CWR: Why did the justices adopt a standard of "viability" (meaning the stage in development when the child can survive outside the womb independent from the mother) and how does the Court's definition of "health" factor into this? 

Forsythe: For the first year of deliberations, the justices were only considering creating a right to abortion up to twelve weeks (the first trimester). Then after the second round of arguments in October 1972, the Justices began to negotiate behind the scenes as to the scope of the “right” and Justices Powell and Marshall lobbied Justice Blackmun to expand the right to viability, which they thought at the time occurred around 28 weeks. They did so for purely pragmatic reasons: to expand access to abortion. But then they outlined the Doe “health exception” after viability, which means that the states must allow abortion even after viability, at the discretion of the provider, for any reason related to the “emotional well-being” of the woman. 

CWR: You observe that the idea that "abortion is safer than childbirth" was an influential factor in the justices deliberations on the matter. What medical or scientific research is this assumption based on? 

Forsythe: Yes, that notion drove the entire outcome in Roe and Doe; it was the key medical assumption in the cases. Since there was no trial or evidentiary record in the lower courts in Roe and Doe, there was no factual evidence supporting that notion. That too was urged on the Justices by the attorneys and interest groups in the Supreme Court. The notion was based on maternal mortality numbers from the 1950s in Soviet Bloc countries. Today the notion is based on a mechanical comparison of the official published abortion mortality rate and the maternal (childbirth) mortality rate. But these rates are non-comparable because what goes into the numerators and denominators of the two rates is radically different. It’s apples and oranges. 

CWR: So much of the language of abortion rights is touted under the banner of women's health and women's rights. Has legal abortion been a real service to women? And are there long-term studies that evidence the effects abortion has on these women in the long run?  

Forsythe: One chapter in Abuse of Discretion examines the short-term and long-terms risks and negative impact on health and relationships. Abortion isn’t about women’s health; it’s just population control. There has been a growing body of international medical data on the long-term risks of abortion over the past two decades. We now have more than 130 international, peer-reviewed medical studies finding an increased risk of pre-term birth (PTB) after abortion. And we have more than a hundred international, peer-reviewed medical studies finding an increased risk of mental trauma after abortion. 

CWR: Abortion is often described as the most polarizing political issue in the United States, yet you cite polls showing broad agreement that abortion is the ending of a human life and a general desire to limit abortion in most circumstances. If that's the case, why can't we carve out a common ground position in our public policy? 

Forsythe: The Supreme Court (and the lower federal courts) through Roe and Doe control every aspect of abortion law and policy and practice, and prevents the American people from “carving out” any “common ground position.” As a practical matter, that is being done by the states when they pass the twenty week (five month) limits, supported by majority public opinion. But the abortion proponents file a case in federal court to get them blocked. As long as Roe and Doe remain the law, the public is prevented from agreeing on any “common ground position.” 

CWR: If Roe is eventually overturned by the Supreme Court, as so many pro-life advocates are hopeful for, where and when will abortion be legal? And what will the task of the pro-life movement then be? 

Forsythe: If Roe was overturned today, abortion would be legal in 40 to 45 states tomorrow because there are no enforceable prohibitions on the books in those states. Pro-life legislators are preparing for the “day after Roe” by working on abortion regulations and prohibitions right now.

segunda-feira, 28 de outubro de 2013

Culture at the “Heart of Liberty” - by James V. Schall, S.J.


To read, one after the other, the following two statements is a philosophical experience. The first passage is from Justice Anthony Kennedy in the 1992 Casey decision: “At the heart of liberty is one’s own concept of existence, of the universe, of the meaning of his life. . . .People have organized intimate relationships and choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that their contraception should fail.” 

We once were told that contraception would eliminate the need for abortion. It usually increases it. The curious logic of this position has been frequently examined. What if, as in the case of abortion, my understanding of the meaning of life includes your destruction? How does the principle help those who are destroyed by my principle?

Next, we read the remarks of Pope Francis to Eugenio Scalfari: “Each of us has a vision of good and evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.” But does such a principle, when in place, make the world a better place? 

I am hard pressed to see any substantial difference between these two opinions as expressed. Both men are Catholics explaining what they hold. Both men seem to be looking at the subjective side of a person’s interior judgments. The whole objective world that is there and affected by the consequences of these positions is bypassed as irrelevant or immaterial. I cannot see why either Mao or Hitler, let alone Hobbes, would have any problem with these positions as stated. Each historical figure would maintain that he was trying to put his “understanding of existence and the good” into practice. So what’s the problem?

The problem is how the internal forum of one’s conscience is related to the objective order of the world, to what human beings actually are. Aquinas taught that an objectively erroneous conscience must also be followed. If this position were what Kennedy and Pope Francis were saying, it can be defended. The pope’s “Who am I to judge?” from the Rio return flight interview expressed our ignorance of how another person sees himself. The pope said that he was talking of someone who sincerely thought what he was doing was all right, but someone who had resolved to lead a “good” life. How many, if any, are these? We have no idea.

Whether some, say, practicing abortionist is really “unaware” of disorder in his acts, we simply speculate about. God knows as does the person involved. But if anyone “sincerely believes” that the commandments are “wrong,” so that he may practice the wrong as if it were right, this fact still does not exempt political or religious officials from challenging this understanding, its logic, and especially its harm to others. To speak of abortion without speaking of what is aborted, to look on it as a purely subjective issue, violates the standards of reason that we are to uphold.

The basic problem here is whether modern culture is itself neutral. The move to bring the Church “up-to-date” was evidently based on the notion that nothing in the existing culture militated against any fundamental teaching or practice of reason or faith. Thus, to “adapt” to modern culture did not seem to be dangerous. 

But if, within the culture, we find already an understanding of “rights, liberty, and equality” that, in their logic, undermines reason and law, then to conform to such a culture is to embrace, as good, beliefs and practices that are contradictory to reason and revelation. As a result, when we deal with modern culture in its own terms, we have to speak as if each of us has his own “understanding” of existence and good, no matter what it is. We establish governments to enable us to carry out what we want. 

When we meet someone with such “modern” cultural ideas that justify making what is evil to be good, we can only respond, on these premises, by giving everyone the “right,” “liberty,” or even “duty,” to do or choose whatever he wants. The actual public order becomes wholly subjective. It gives everyone the “right” or “liberty” to do or think what he wants. 

Once we arrive at this point, everything follows. With a subjective public order, we are unable to say anything about it because we have no tools but “modern ideas” of rights, liberty, and equality that, in their intrinsic philosophic definitions, allow no critique of them from an order said, in classical thought, to be “objective.

Quando resistere al Papa è un dovere. Il singolare caso del vescovo Roberto Grossatesta - di Cristiana de Magistris

In conciliovaticanosecondo.it

Il nome del vescovo inglese Roberto Grossatesta  (1175-1253) è quasi del tutto sconosciuto al mondo italiano. Ai pochi che ne hanno qualche erudizione è noto per il suo genio in campo scientifico dove le sue opere sono considerate di pregio inestimabile tanto da avergli meritato il titolo di “pioniere” di un movimento scientifico e letterario, nonché di “primo” matematico e fisico del suo tempo.

Ma Roberto Grossatesta fu anzitutto un santo Vescovo, che si distinse per il suo zelo nel promuovere la salus animarum e per il suo amore al Papato.

Mente assolutamente prodigiosa e versata non solo negli studi scientifici ma anche in quelli letterari, teologici e scritturistici, Roberto Grossatesta divenne vescovo di Lincoln nel 1235. “Da quando sono stato nominato vescovo – scrisse – mi considero il pastore e custode delle anime che mi impegno a curare con tutte le mie forze, poiché del gregge che mi è stato affidato mi sarà chiesto stretto conto nel giorno del Giudizio”[1]. Il suo scopo principale fu quello di “riformare la società attraverso le riforma del clero”[2]. L’austera disciplina che esigeva dai suoi preti era nota in tutta Inghilterra: rinuncia a ricompense pecuniarie, obbligo alla residenza, riverenza nella celebrazione della Santa Messa, fedeltà nella recita dell’Ufficio divino, istruzione del popolo, piena disponibilità per i malati e i bambini. Con queste regole il Vescovo inglese, oltre che elevare il livello di predicazione e d’insegnamento del clero, voleva migliorarne la condotta morale.

Ma una delle caratteristiche più singolari del Grossatesta fu la sua venerazione per il primato petrino che uno dei suoi biografi descrisse in questi termini: “L’aspetto più interessante della teoria del Grossatesta sulla costituzione e funzione della gerarchia ecclesiastica è la sua esaltazione del Papato. Egli è stato probabilmente il più fervente e risoluto papista tra gli scrittori medievali inglesi”[3].

Tale venerazione per la plenitudo potestatis del Romano Pontefice assume un significato del tutto speciale ed una portata quanto mai interessante in relazione alla sua  successiva resistenza a Innocenzo IV.

Nel 1239 il Grossatesta, in un discorso sulla gerarchia ecclesiastica rivolto al  Decano e al Capitolo di Lincoln, disse: “[…] seguendo le prefigurazioni dell’Antico Testamento, il Signor Papa ha il primato del potere sulle nazioni e sui regni, ha il potere di demolire e di sradicare, di distruggere e di disperdere, di piantare e costruire […] Samuele era tra il popolo d’Israele come un sole, proprio come lo è il Papa nella Chiesa universale e ogni vescovo nella sua diocesi”[4].

Nel 1237 aveva scritto ad un legato pontificio: “Dio non permetta che la Santa Sede e coloro che vi presiedono, ai quali normalmente occorre prestare obbedienza in tutto ciò che comandano, divengano invece la causa della perdita di fede per il popolo comandando ciò che è contrario ai precetti di Cristo e alla Sua volontà. Dio non permetta che ad alcuno che è veramente unito a  Cristo, non volendo in alcun modo andare contro la di Lui Volontà, questa Sede e coloro che vi presiedono possano essere causa di perdita di fede o di scisma apparente, comandando di fare ciò che si oppone alla volontà di Cristo”.

Il vescovo Grossatesta guardava con orrore anche alla semplice idea di disobbedire all’autorità ecclesiastica legittimamente costituita, poiché considerava l’obbedienza come la sola risposta adeguata a tale autorità che viene da Dio. Ma l’autorità esiste entro limiti ben precisi. Non v’è autorità oltre tali limiti – ultra vires – e rifiutarsi di obbedire all’autorità quando questa oltrepassa tali limiti non è una disobbedienza, ma l’affermazione che l’autorità sta abusando del suo potere. Molti teologi, come il Suarez, ritengono che sia lecito resistere anche al Papa “se questi fa qualcosa che si oppone manifestamente alla giustizia e al bene comune”[5].

Nel Medioevo forse nessuno come il Grossatesta era convinto che il Papa possedesse la plenitudo potestatis. Ma egli sosteneva, con i medievali del suo tempo, che tale potere non è un potere arbitrario, bensì è un ufficio affidato a lui “per il servizio dell’intero Corpo (di Cristo)”, che è la Chiesa. Tale potere è dato al Papa per la salvezza delle anime, per edificare il Corpo di Cristo e non per distruggerlo. Il Papa – non bisogna dimenticarlo – è il vicario di Cristo, non Cristo stesso, e deve esercitare il suo potere secondo la volontà di Cristo e non in manifesto contrasto con essa. Dio non permetta, diceva il Grossatesta, che la Santa Sede divenga la “causa” di un apparente scisma comandando ai fedeli cattolici qualcosa che si oppone alla Volontà di Cristo Signore.

L’occasione che provocò la resistenza del Grossatesta fu data dal problema dei benefici ecclesiastici, la cui prima funzione era la cura d’anime. Il complesso rapporto Chiesa-Stato di quel tempo scardinò questa funzione, e spesso i benefici venivano elargiti a chierici che non avrebbero potuto (o voluto) in alcuni modo curare il gregge loro affidato. Accadeva che il Papa stesso nominava per un beneficio, una prebenda o un canonicato ecclesiastici che molto spesso non risiedevano nei luoghi loro assegnati o, in ogni caso, erano incapaci per un motivo o per un altro di occuparsene. Per l’alta stima che nutriva per il Papato, il Grossatesta si oppose a questa pratica che era in forte odore di simonia e, talvolta, di nepotismo. Egli accettava pienamente le nomine del Papa quando i beneficiari erano in grado assolvere alle funzioni per cui ricevevano i benefici. Sia il potere papale che i benefici, infatti, avevano per il Grossatesta un unico scopo: la salvezza delle anime.

Il Vescovo inglese resistette a questo stato di decadenza con tutti i mezzi possibili, specie attraverso un intelligente e saggio uso del diritto canonico. Nel 1250, oramai ottuagenario, si recò a Lione – dove allora risiedeva Innocenzo IV – e si confrontò col Papa in persona. “Egli solo si alzò […] Papa Innocenzo sedeva con i suoi cardinali e i familiari per ascoltare l’attacco più veemente e completo che alcun papa abbia mai udito nel pieno del suo potere”[6].

L’oggetto dell’accusa era la mancanza di cura pastorale, che poneva la Chiesa in uno stato di profonda sofferenza. “L’ufficio dei pastori versa in condizioni miserevoli. E la causa del male va ricercata nella Curia papale […] essa provvede cattivi pastori per il suo gregge. Che cos’è un ufficio pastorale? I suoi doveri sono molteplici, ma in particolare esso comporta il dovere delle visite (ai fedeli)…”[7]. Ora, come poteva un pastore non residente provvedere al suo gregge? A questa domanda neppure il Papa poteva rispondere. Il Grosattesta, del resto, insegnava con l’esempio prima che con le parole. Anni addietro, nel 1232, aveva rinunciato a tutti i suoi benefici e le prebende, ad eccezione di una prebenda che deteneva a Lincoln, cosa che lo aveva coperto di ridicolo agli occhi dei contemporanei. Ma egli aveva risposto con queste superne parole che rivelano la nobiltà del suo animo: “Se sono più disprezzato agli occhi del mondo, sono però più gradito ai cittadini del Cielo”[8].

L’eroica visita del Vescovo inglese a Innocenzo IV – eroica sia per l’arditezza dell’avvenimento sia per l’età avanzata del Grossatesta – non sortì alcun effetto. Il Papa dipendeva dal sistema delle provvigioni per mantenere la Curia e per finanziare le interminabili guerre contro Federico II.

Nel 1253, il Papa assegnò a un suo nipote, Federico di Lavagna, un canonicato nella cattedrale di Lincoln. Il Grossatesta ricevette il comando di  porre in esecuzione la volontà del Romano Pontefice e si trovò in un atroce dilemma. Il comando del Papa era assolutamente legale, avendo egli tutti i diritti di assegnare canonicati, e in quanto tale occorreva obbedire. Ma, pur essendo legale, il comando era un chiaro “abuso di potere”, poiché il nipote del Papa non avrebbe mai messo piede nella terra degli Angli e dunque non avrebbe mai esercitato il suo ministero a Lincoln, per il quale però avrebbe riscosso il beneficio.

In tal caso, il Papa usava del suo ufficio di Vicario di Cristo in un senso contrario a quello per il quale gli era stato affidato. La risposta del Grossatesta fu il rifiuto di obbedire ad un comando che era un chiaro abuso di potere. Il Papa in quel frangente agiva ultra vires, ossia oltre i limiti della sua autorità. La resistenza del Grossatesta fu dovuta non al fatto che mancasse di riconoscere l’autorità del Papa, ma per l’immensa stima e rispetto che nutriva per essa.

Il vescovo Grossatesta si rifiutò di assegnare al nipote del Papa il canonicato della Cattedrale di Lincoln e scrisse una lettera di rimostranza e rifiuto, non al Papa in persona, ma ad un suo commissario, il Maestro Innocenzo, attraverso il quale aveva ricevuto il comando.

Ecco quanto vi si legge: “Nessun fedele soggetto alla Santa Sede, nessun uomo che non è escluso con lo scisma dal Corpo di Cristo e dalla stessa Sede Apostolica, può obbedire a comandi, precetti o altri ordini di questo tipo, neppure se venissero dal più alto coro degli Angeli. Egli deve ripudiarli e rigettarli con tutte le forze. Per l’obbedienza che mi lega e per l’amore che porto alla Santa Sede nel Corpo di Cristo, come figlio obbediente io disobbedisco, contraddico e mi ribello. Voi non potete far nulla contro di me poiché ogni mia parola e ogni mia azione non è una ribellione ma un atto di onore filiale dovuto al padre e alla madre attraverso il comando di Dio. Come ho detto, la Sede Apostolica nella sua santità non può distruggere ma solo costruire.  È questa la plenitudo potestatis: essa deve fare tutto per l’edificazione. Ora, queste cosiddette “provvigioni” non costruiscono ma distruggono. Esse non possono essere l’opera della Sede Apostolica, poiché sono dettate “dalla carne e dal sangue”, che non posseggono il Regno di Dio, e non dal Padre che è nei cieli[9].

Commentando queste parole, W. A. Pantin, nel suo studio sulle relazioni tra il vescovo Grossatesta e il Papato, scrive: “Sembrano esserci qui due linee di pensiero. Una prima, secondo cui, poiché la plenitudo potestatis esiste al fine dell’edificazione e non della distruzione, ogni atto che tende alla distruzione o alla rovina delle anime non può essere considerato un vero esercizio della plenitudo potestatis… Una seconda, secondo cui, se il Papa o chiunque altro comandasse qualcosa di contrario alla legge divina, allora sarebbe sbagliato obbedire e, in ultima istanza, mentre si afferma la propria fedeltà, occorre rifiutarsi di obbedire. Il problema di fondo è che mentre l’insegnamento della Chiesa è soprannaturalmente garantito contro l’errore, i ministri della Chiesa, dal Papa in giù, non sono impeccabili e possono formulare giudizi errati e impartire comandi sbagliati”[10].

“Non potete fare niente contro di me”, aveva protestato il Grossatesta, e gli eventi gli diedero ragione. Quando Innocenzo IV lesse la lettera, sdegnato oltremisura, voleva chiederne l’incarcerazione, ma i Cardinali lo dissuasero. “La Santità Vostra – gli dissero – non deve far nulla. Noi non possiamo condannarlo. È un uomo cattolico e santo, l’uomo migliore che abbiamo, senza eguali tra gli altri prelati. Il clero francese e inglese lo sa bene e un nostro intervento non avrebbe alcun vantaggio. La verità contenuta in questa lettera, che è probabilmente nota a molti, potrebbe spingere altri ad agire contro di noi. Grossatesta è stimato come grande filosofo, conoscitore della letteratura latina e  greca, zelante per la giustizia, teologo, predicatore e nemico degli abusi”[11].

Innocenzo IV comprese che la cosa migliore da fare era di astenersi da qualunque intervento. E così fu. In quello stesso anno 1253, il Grossatesta morì. Sulla sua tomba avvennero molti miracoli e divenne subito un luogo di culto e di devozione, né sono mancati tentativi di avviare la sua causa di canonizzazione[12]. L’Inghilterra vanta solo un altro Vescovo santo, John Fisher, il cui amore e la cui fedeltà alla Santa Sede non superava quella del Grossatesta. Certamente se questi fosse vissuto al tempo di John Fisher non avrebbe esitato a dare, come lui, la vita per la Sede Apostolica. Ma è anche certo che, se John Fisher fosse vissuto nel XIII secolo, sotto il pontificato di Innocenzo IV, avrebbe resistito agli abusi del potere papale.

Il caso del vescovo Grossatesta riveste un’importanza del tutto particolare poiché la sua resistenza non è motivata dall’eresia, nel cui caso è opinione comune che non bisogna obbedire. Egli non difese l’ortodossia cattolica ma si rifiutò di porre in esecuzione una direttiva pratica del Papa che egli considerava dannosa per la salus animarum.

Il caso “Grossatesta” fece storia. Silvestro Prierias, insigne domenicano e strenuo difensore dell’autorità pontificia, nel suo Dialogus de Potestate Papæ (1517), riprendendo le parole e l’esempio del Grossatesta, asserì che il Sovrano Pontefice può abusare del suo potere: “Se il Papa volesse sperperare i beni della Chiesa o distribuirli ai suoi parenti, se volesse distruggere la Chiesa o compiere un atto di simile portata, allora sarebbe un dovere impedirglielo e un obbligo opporglisi e resistergli. La ragione è che egli non possiede il potere per distruggere. Dal che consegue che, se agisse così, sarebbe legittimo resistergli”.

Durante il Concilio Vaticano I, il caso Grossatesta fu citato varie volte non per condannarne la resistenza del Vescovo inglese ma per dimostrare che la plenitudo potestatis del Romano Pontefice – nonostante l’infallibilità pontificia che quel Concilio stava per definire – ha dei limiti ben precisi, non essendo né assoluta né arbitraria.

Riprendendo le parole del Grossatesta – “la Sede Apostolica nella sua santità non può distruggere ma solo costruire” – il vescovo D’Avanzo, in sede di Concilio, disse: “Pietro ha tanto potere quanto ha voluto dargliene Nostro Signore, non per la distruzione ma per l’edificazione del Corpo di Cristo che è la Chiesa”[13].

E così, dopo sei secoli, la resistenza al Papa del più “papista” dei Vescovi inglesi del XIII secolo contribuì alla definizione dell’infallibilità pontifica. Questa è l’ironia di Dio di cui gli Angeli e i Santi – anche il Grossatesta! – gioiscono in cielo. (di Cristiana de Magistris)

[1] D. A. Callus, Robert Grosseteste, Oxford 1955, p .150.
[2] Ivi, p. 85.
[3] Ivi, p. 183.
[4] Ivi, p. 185.
[5] “Se il papa comanda qualcosa che sia contrario alla morale non bisogna obbedirgli. Se prova a fare qualcosa che sia contrario alla giustizia e al bene comune, è lecito resistergli. Se egli attacca con la forza, può essere respinto con la forza, con la moderazione propria di una giusta difesa”: De fide, disp. X, sect. VI, n. 16.
[6] M. Powicke, “Robert Grossateste, Bishop of Lincoln”, Bullettin of the John Rylands Library, Manchester, vol. 35, n. 2, march 1953, p. 504.
[7] M. Powicke, King Henry III and the Lord Edward , Oxford 1959, p. 284.
[8] D. A. Callus, cit., XIX.
[9] M. Powicke, King Henry III and the Lord Edward , cit., p. 286.
[10] W. A. Pantin, “Grosseteste’s relations with the papacy and the crown”, in D. A. Callus, cit., pp. 190-191.
[11] M. Powicke, King Henry III and the Lord Edward , cit., p. 287.
[12] Cf E. W. Kemp, “The attempted canonization of Robert Grossateste”, in D. A. Callus, cit., pp. 241-246.
[13] J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissa collectio, Parigi 1857-1927, LII, p. 715